On December 25/January 7 every year, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. This day is an important one for humankind. For on this day the eternal God, who had deigned to take on human flesh in order to save us from the power of Death, is born into time and space. On this day we celebrate His birth to the Theotokos in a cave. We recognize Joseph’s obedience to God’s messengers in the midst of doubt. We remember the shepherds who were the first to know the Good News of HIs birth when the Angels of God announced it to them. Thus, “the least of these” were granted great mercy. We remember the Magi whose love for and intense study of creation revealed the Good News to them in a manner so convincing that they acted on it and traveled to a foreign land to pay homage to a King they’d never even heard of before. In them, “the wealthy” and “the foreigners” were granted great mercy as well. We recall how nature (for example, the star and the animals in the cave) proclaimed and honored His birth. We observe that Life can come from the depths of the earth, for in a cave our Lord was born, and again later, in a cave, humanity is born into life eternal when He conquers Death and rises from the dead.
It is likely that our Sunday Church School students are already familiar with the story of this feast. Let us be sure that they know where to find it in the Scriptures, in Luke chapter 2. Read this passage aloud together. As you do so, find opportunities to discuss the things mentioned above. Then take a look at the icon of the feast. Challenge your students to identify as many different parts of the scripture passage as they are able to find in the icon. Then talk about the feast and its importance. Establish the importance of the day, and take some time to discuss what Orthodox Christians should do on the day of the feast so that our actions focus on celebrating the feast itself, and do not just bend to societal trends and expectations. This can be difficult, especially if families have established many other Christmas lower-case-t-traditions. Encourage your students to help their family think about the importance of the feast and act accordingly. Even a little step towards celebrating the feast will be a step in the right direction, and will be worth the effort!
The feast will be upon us soon. Let us prepare and celebrate as we should. Blessed Nativity to you, your family, and your Sunday Church School students!
Here are additional ideas of ways to teach your students about the Nativity Feast:
Find descriptions of the icon of the Nativity at these links:
Click on parts of the icon to read about them here: http://www.antiochian.org/icons-explained-nativity
See the icon and descriptions about each part of it here: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/70/62/e2/7062e21a4c0a4cc5358ffe18586bf7fb.jpg
Create some pretty icon ornaments together such as these: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-orthodox-craft-ornaments.html
Ask your students if their family has a Christmas tree. Many of them probably do. Talk about how some of the Christmas tree’s symbolisms can point us to the true meaning of the Nativity Feast. Read the feast’s pages in the book “Heaven Meets Earth.” The Nativity Feast’s section explains the many symbols of the Christmas tree. For example, “God’s light, symbolized by the lights sparkling all around the tree, reaches into the deepest, darkest crevices of our being.” (p. 20) Talk with your students about these symbols and how they fit with the celebration of the feast. Invite students to create their own (paper) Christmas trees and including some of these symbols. Teach each student to accordian-fold a large green paper circle to make a “tree” shape. Then allow them to decorate it with markers, tiny paper icon “ornaments,” etc. Add two star stickers (back to back) at the top of the “tree.” Use a hole punch to punch holes from the fold side of each of the accordian folds of the tree. Set the tree over an led votive (many dollar stores sell them two to a pack) so that the tree can “light up.” Before sending the trees home with your students, review again the symbolisms mentioned in the book, so that they can share them with their family when they get home.
Keeping our focus (and our students’ focus) on Christ during the Nativity “season” is not always easy in today’s world. Find resources to help in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/
Find pins to many Nativity ideas here: https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/nativity/
This zine can help us teach our students ages 12 and up about the Nativity of our Lord. http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/zines/nativityzine. You can also get a teachers’ guide to use with the zine. (See the objectives here: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/resources/midhightextobjectives#For to Us) It also has a free parent guide that could be sent to the parents of our Sunday Church School students. The parent guide features ways to use the zine with children of different age levels; ideas for celebrating the twelve days of Christmas; and information about Christmas celebrations around the world, as well! http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/christmas_guide
With older children, we can take time before the Nativity Feast’s vesperal service/Royal Hours to discuss the verses we will hear and/or chant. For example this one:
O Christ what shall we offer You;
for our sake You appeared on earth as man?
Every creature made by You offers thanks to You.
The angels offer You a hymn; the heavens, a star;
the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder;
the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger:
and we offer You a Virgin Mother.
O pre-eternal God, have mercy on us.
Find the rest of the vesperal service here: http://lit.royaldoors.net/